all the market will bear

For longer than I care to admit, I have been working on this marketing questionnaire for my book. Collecting names and contact information. Please list towns you have lived in, people you know, places you think might host you. Please list any media contacts you have; any clubs, associations, schools you have been part of. Cities you’d be willing to visit. It’s not that I don’t want to do this. It’s my first book. I have worked a long time for this. I will do everything I can to make a “successful launch.” It just makes me think a lot about marketing and for how long the notion of selling oneself has been embedded in the way we think about being in the world.

I am doing a lot of selling myself these days. Applying for things – fellowships, grants, teaching jobs. Seeking out freelance work. I am compelled to confront, on a daily basis, how I might be perceived, how my value might be assessed. This raises a great deal of unease, is one way to express how I feel.

Does it read like a book one wonders. This is Francesca Woodman in her own notebooks. She was thinking about a reader, even then.

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“We will change the way we write,” a friend says. This in response to my question to him, “How are we going to make it?” We are referring to this presidency. I am being melodramatic, but I am also afraid. The question of belonging is not an abstraction. But I am not sure I understand what he means yet. How the writing will change.

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If you want to be a transformative poet, you have to stop hiding behind lyrical language. I’m paraphrasing here, but this is what one advisor said. This poem seems afraid to tell the story, he said. I could intuit a kind of truth in this, but still I found it confusing. I feel as though I am always telling my story, the same story, over and over, in everything I think, write, do.

We are taught to consider certain things beautiful. Ways of writing. Of presenting oneself in the world. These are learned preferences, practiced over time. My early exposure was to a poetics of obfuscation. Disorientation as a means to destabilize one’s sense of narrative, of what is real and what is not. Resistance to realism so flattened as to be rendered lifeless. “We already have reality,” a friend said to me once. And yes, shouldn’t art do something else?

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Posing the question To whom might your book be of interest is not unlike asking to whom is your life of interest? Where does this book belong is another way of asking where do you belong?

Perhaps this is not a useful way to think about this. Perhaps a questionnaire is just a questionnaire and a spreadsheet is just a list of places you have been.